Andre Watson sheds some light on the job of referees

South African referee Andre Watson with Wallabies captain George Gregan in the 2003 World Cup final. Photo: Craig Golding

South African referee Andre Watson with Wallabies captain George Gregan in the 2003 World Cup final. Photo: Craig Golding

I recently had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions to Andre Watson. Although it was via e-mail and not a face to face chat it was still very informative. Before I get to the questions here is a bit more about Andre’s career in rugby and refereeing.

Andre Jacobus Watson was born on 24 April 1958 in Germiston, Gauteng. He attended the Maria van Riebeeck Primary school and Goudrif High School. He studied at Maties and later Wits. While at school he represented the then Transvaal Schools XV. He played for Maties and Wits all as flyhalf. He is a Civil Engineer by profession.

Andre took up refereeing in 1987 and became a full-time referee in 1995. He officiate until 2004 and made a return in 2007 for a match. In total Andre officiated in 100 Currie Cup matches and 28 Tests with various Super Rugby games. He holds the record for 7 Currie Cup finals, 5 Super Rugby finals and 2 World Cup finals. After he retired as referee he took up the position as Manager of Referees at SARU.

Once again I want to thank Andre for taking the time to answer the following questions:

Dave: You have been involved with refereeing for a very long time. Has the game really changed much from when you started?

Andre: From a refereeing point of view, very little has changed as a ruck is still a ruck, a maul a maul, a lineout a lineout, a tackle a tackle, etc. What has changed fairly dramatically is the scrum. There is a set engagement procedures and communication that was different a few years ago.

Dave: The laws have changed over the last couple of years. Especially the scrum laws. Looking back at the 70’s and 80’s we are nearly back to where we started. Would you agree?

Andre: I cannot agree at all, I’m sorry. The scrums are vastly different today than in the 70/80’s.  If one studies videos from then and compare it with the scrums of today, one will notice a lot less resets than before for example. The scrums are more steady and square before the ball is put in than back then. Also, the ball used to be put in straight all the time – thankfully the latest scrum trial allows us to pay attention to that and more importantly, allows us to police the throw in, so the feeds in to the scrums will come right and be straight again. Phew, never thought I’d see that in my lifetime but happy that I would, soon! One must remember the changes to the scrum were due to safety  reasons mainly and then to get more ball in play time and equipping the referee to be more accurate in sanctioning players causing scrums to collapse and reset.

Dave: Much criticism has been dish out towards referees during the 2013 Super Rugby competition. I however counted 1 game where bad calls really made a difference. The Rebels v Stormers game. How do you motivate referees when they are blamed for teams losing?

Andre: It is inevitable and comes with the territory that referees are blamed for teams losing. I’ve never heard of a winning team complaining. The motivation lies in the fact that we are trying to be faultless, and as humans are incapable of refereeing – or playing – the game faultlessly, we strive for excellence. Every decision and every non-decision of every referee in every game in SA is analysed, checked for accuracy and feedback given to the referee. Together with this a remedy is given so as to minimize the mistakes going forward.

Dave: Many people are calling for referees to be more openly criticised. I don’t agree with this. However how is a referee sanctioned after a bad game full of mistakes?

Andre: At the level of SARU competitions referees simply do not referee a game that is “full of mistakes”. The ‘hit rate’ at CC level for example is between 4 and 10 errors in-game. If one considers that they make in excess of 200 decisions in a game then one will see that they achieve above 95% accuracy. Unfortunately this is not generally accepted as the expectation is for the referee to be faultless. With regards to sanctioning, a referee will not be sanctioned after one game – nor would a player be by his coach – but when a referee loses form or has a bad run in three games or more, he will be removed from that level and then given an opportunity to fix the problem at a lower level. It is all performance based.

Dave: Do you feel that technology is being used to its full advantage in rugby?

Andre: This is not easy to answer in a few words. But in short, I believe technology should be used where it can help accuracy and better decisions. I do not believe technology is the only way to go for basically the following reasons: technology does not ‘feel’ the temperature of the game, technology cannot adjudicate on intent, etc. humans play this game, it then needs humans to referee it mostly. Further, there has not been a camera invented – yet – that can give three-dimensional vision, nor can it see ‘through’ a pile of bodies”. So, my view is that technology should be used wisely.

Dave: Do you feel that the criticism towards Jaco Peyper in the Kings v Lions game down in Port Elizabeth was levelled or not? Jaco himself has admitted that he made mistakes but it didn’t favour one side or the other.

Andre: Jaco was mainly criticised for allowing the try after a “forward pass” that lead to a Lions try. This criticism was wrong as the pass was not forward and no TMO would have called it forward anyway. He made two other mistakes, one that would have given the Kings a 5m scrum from the Lions goal line instead of a 22m drop out and two, the yellow card against the Lions was an incorrect decision as it didn’t sync with the three high tackles by the Kings that did not result in yellow card.

Dave: Do referees take heed of what the commentators are saying during a game when they watch the game later?

Andre: Absolutely not, they watch games in silence as they need to review their decisions and not the opinions of commentators.

Dave: How long does it take a referee to come from school/club level to refereeing at Super Rugby and test level?

Andre: As long or as short as it takes to reach that level of competency. Some people are late developers and others break the door down. For example: Marius Jonker became a test referee within three years of starting. Others take much longer, as I did.

Dave: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get involved in refereeing?

Andre: It is the best ‘seat in the house” it is packed with excitement and adrenalin and wonderfully satisfying as a sport. Contact us through our website, an amazing website that is interactive with clips of current and controversial incidents, explaining the law and whether the decision made was correct or not.

Well guys and gals there you have it from probably one of the most successful and best referees South Africa has ever had. The job of a referee is never easy and we are not making it any easier. I hope you will think twice before blaming the referee in future. 200 plus calls in 80 minutes at real-time is not an easy task.

Once again thank you to Andre Watson for shedding some light on referees for us. Also thank you to Andy Colquhoun of SARU for facilitating it.


About Dave

I totally love sport. Rugby, cricket and soccer, but my first love will always be rugby. Other than sport I write my own poems and other interestings articles. I also love cooking. A man of many talents. When it come to Cricket I'm a Cape Cobras, Kolkata Knight Riders and Proteas supporter. Soccer there is only one team and that is Man United and Germany internationally. Other than that I'm a loving father and husband.

Posted on August 13, 2013, in Sports Contraversial and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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